SuMMit CrossFit hosts class for adults with developmental disabilities

SuMMit CrossFit in Asheville hosts a class at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays called “The Priscilla Project” for adults with developmental disabilities (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

CrossFit gyms are popping up all over the country. It’s not strange to see several within a few blocks of each other.

SuMMit CrossFit in Asheville is like many of their brethren in a lot of ways. There are classes throughout the day in a large metal warehouse filled with different types of apparatus, ranging from gymnastics rings to traditional squat racks.

“We focus on being a well-rounded athlete, rather than just weightlifting and just building muscle,” explained SuMMit owner and coach Aaron Ledford.

One the regulars is Kevin Hiatt. He’s a self-described older man who’s just as interested in the flexibility and mobility training as he is the power lifting.

“It's a very humbling sport because it's constantly challenging you,” explained Hiatt. “It’s not just one thing you’ve got to know.”

According to CrossFit’s official website, there are almost 400 “boxes” (the official CF community word for gym) from South Carolina up to Virginia.

Despite their prevalence, Ledford saw the potential to expand their fitness family to a new group of people: adults with developmental disabilities.

“It builds their confidence and it spills over outside of the gym,” he explained. “It affects the others around them. It's very contagious.”

The class, which meets at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is called “The Priscilla Project.” The namesake’s roots are traced all the way down to Florida where Ledford worked as a live-in caregiver for a man named Henry who had developmental disabilities.

Henry’s mother, Priscilla, became a central figure in Ledford’s life, pushing him to seek out ways to give back to his community.

“We always talked about how cool it would be if people in different career paths could volunteer to help someone less fortunate,” he reminisced.

Priscilla passed away shortly before Ledford came to Asheville. “She was like a mom to me, so I miss her dearly,” he said, visibly choked up. “She was a lot of my motivation for starting it.”

The Priscilla Project is approaching its five-year anniversary. Hiatt now leads the group with assistance from other gym members like Hannah Lancaster.

“It's definitely a two-way benefit. I don't think of it as volunteering,” she said. “This particular group of athletes probably motivates me and pushes me and encourages me more than a lot of my other friends in the gym.”

Lancaster started coming to the Priscilla Project with her cousin, who was Down Syndrome. Now she leads the participants in stretching at the end of class.

“This class made me realize I want to be around this community more and pursue special education,” said the December 2017 graduate of A.C. Reynolds High School.

CrossFit boxes around the world share daily routines, called the “Workout of the Day” (Or “WOD” for short). Ledford sees one more similarity: a slow period during the middle of most mid-week days.

“There's a lot of other gyms across the country that have idle time in the middle of the day and we hope to get this project in other gyms, get them set up as non-profits and get them replicating and just giving back to the communities,” he stated.

While building muscle is a by-product of the Priscilla Project, the real goal is to strengthen local communities.

“It's the highlight of my day,” Ledford smiled. “It reminds me of what it is really all about.”

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